Negotiating heavy traffic

Kevin Cowherd

May 01, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

This is another report from the front lines in the enduring war between bicyclists and motorists.

Having spent time recently in both camps, let me say this: It's getting nasty out there.

The bicyclists, convinced they're being relegated to less and less of the roadway, are aggressively staking out their turf with a traffic-be-damned attitude.

Meanwhile, many motorists have just about had it with, in the words of one dispassionate driver, "those Lycra-wearing pinheads who cause all the accidents."

Me, I feel very strongly both ways, perhaps making this column a voice of reason -- although that would be a first -- amid the babble of both sides.

Let's begin with the cyclists, since they are easier to pick on because of their weird outfits and insufferable healthier-than-thou arrogance.

When I see a cyclist riding on a heavily traveled stretch of road, two words immediately come to mind: death wish.

To me it's like looking at Jonestown, minus the vats of tainted Kool-Aid.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but my philosophy on bicycle riding vis-a-vis traffic is simple: Anyone who does it is nuts.

All you have to do is look at the simple arithmetic involved here.

A bicycle weighs around what, 23 pounds? A car, on the other hand, weighs in the neighborhood of 3,000 pounds.

Doing some fast subtraction -- let's see, seven from 10 is three, carry the one -- we see the car is 2,977 pounds heavier than the bicycle, a not insignificant sum.

Now factor in the speed each is capable of attaining. Sure, a bicycle can move pretty well. But a Pontiac Firebird, driven by a 22-year-old frantically banging through the gears in order to arrive at his softball game on time, will attain a considerably higher speed. Often the car will actually take flight.

Again, the numbers seem to tilt heavily in favor of the car as the more formidable machine.

Therefore, it stands to reason that if the car and the bicycle collide, it will not be the car that ultimately lies in a broken, twisted heap.

This is why you rarely see a motorist emerge from his car pale and shaken and saying: "I . . . I almost got hit by a Schwinn 10-speed!"

Of course, when you talk to cyclists about the danger of riding in traffic, their reaction is predictable.

First their faces get all red. Then the veins in their neck begin to bulge like thick ropes and their breathing comes in short, agitated bursts, like a Chihuahua with a head cold.

Then comes the familiar nasally whine: "All we want is a piece of the road!"

Yeah, yeah, piece of the road, piece of the road . . . that's all we ever hear from you people.

Look, let's put this whole piece-of-the-road nonsense in perspective.

If the piece of the road you're riding on happens to be the same piece of the road used by an 18-wheeler with an amphetamine freak behind the wheel who's hauling a load of refrigerator coolant to Philadelphia, I would suggest you find another piece of the road.

Either that or you might want to begin pricing caskets. Because this is very dangerous business you're engaged in here.

I know a cyclist -- you might think I'm making this up, but I'm not -- who was actually hit by a cow.

As the story goes, she was riding down this quiet country road and slowed to look at some flowers in a meadow.

All of a sudden this . . . this cow darted out from a dirt lane. Well, maybe darted isn't the word we're looking for here. But the cow seemed spooked and had a pretty good head of steam, somehow managing to bump the cyclist into a nearby gully.

Call me a worry-wart, but if I'm a cyclist, my thinking is this: If a cow can do this sort of damage, I don't want to be anywhere near a Chevy Blazer.

Of course, then there are the idiot motorists who refuse to give bicyclists any kind of a break.

Me, I don't see what the big deal is about moving over and giving the cyclists a little space on the side of the road.

But some motorists have to make a big show about swerving around cyclists, like they're running through the cones at the Dan Gurney School of Motor Sports.

Look, can't all of us, cyclist and motorist alike, learn to respect each other?

I'm not saying we should all link arms and sway and sing "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke." Just getting rid of that one-fingered salute would be a start.

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